by Jack Henison
Chicago native Roger Ebert was one of the leading film critics of the last century, he had a special way of writing about film in that he always seemed very personal and emotional and treated the movie watching experience like a journey. In 1975 he was paired for the first time with fellow Chicago native and rival critic Gene Siskel on a television show which would later evolve into the now classic ‘Siskel and Ebert at the movies’. The two formed a very likable duo intelligent, witty, opinionated and never afraid to back down, often behaving like brothers sometimes when they disagreed over a movies merit. Their unique thumbs up or down way of critiquing films made them household names, and to this day the effect that a film had on them still shapes the way we view that same film.
It’s very important to point out that Roger Ebert was promoted to chief film critic at the Chicago Sun Times in 1967, a seminal year in the history of film as this was also when ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ directed by Arthur Penn was released. ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ was the start of a film movement named New Hollywood, which lasted until 1982. In this time young directors such as Robert Altman, John Boorman, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Peter bogdanovich who were all heavily influenced by world cinema first emerged and changed the landscape of what Hollywood produced. Roger Ebert was a real champion of this kind of filmmaking and encouraged audiences to go and see the films for themselves. It was also during the 70s where independent and blockbuster films began taking their first steps, helmed by directors like John Cassavetes and Steven Spielberg respectively. Although stylistically very far apart Roger Ebert was enormously open minded and wrote wonderful reviews praising both the new art forms. Such was his genius that he became the first ever critic to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1975.
Siskel and Ebert remained together until Gene Siskels untimely death in 1999, a sad loss but the balcony did not close there for Roger. He found a new partner in the form of much younger critic Richard Roeper and continued to praise the films he loved and write off the ones he hated into the new century. Unfortunately tragedy struck once more when Ebert was diagnosed with cancer, and as a result of surgery had his voice box removed. But did this prevent him from doing the job he loved? Of course not, in the 11 years he battled with cancer Roger Ebert never retired and held his position as the worlds most loved critic. The cancer finally caught up with him though and on April 4th 2013 the world said a tearful farewell to one of the greatest lovers of film. Roger ended his final blog with this incredibly moving sentence: “So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies.”
When you look back at this man’s remarkable career there is one thing that really stands out, his passion for cinema. It was that passion that made him and Siskel the much loved figures they were.
Roger wherever you are right now I hope you’re finally at peace, you made the movies for so many people and your death is the end of an era. I give your life a thumbs up.